There’s a lot of hubbub these days around the idea of “finding your passion.”
If you Google the phrase, you’ll get 11 million results. Google Trends charts a course of increasing interest in the phrase over time (at least for Canadians and USers). And I don’t know about you, but I see it everywhere—in Facebook ads and business coach videos, blog posts and articles.
Personally, I tend to side with Marc Manson: Screw finding your passion. Do what you like. Do what supports you. Don’t worry about finding that One Perfect Thing that you will blissfully pursue while skipping through fields of flowers for the rest of your life. Find a thing you like. Get good at it. Find a way to do it and support the lifestyle you want (which is just as, if not more, important than your career).
If it starts to suck, ask yourself why and adjust course accordingly. If you discover it’s just not for you, even though you thought it was, you’re allowed to change your mind. I know more than one lawyer working as a food writer or event planner or content strategist. You don’t have to stay stuck. You don’t have to pick the Exact Right Thing For You before you even have the data to say whether it’s right for you.
Which brings me to the thing I really want to talk about:
Part of the indecision I personally feel about career choices (and I’m guessing a few of you are with me in this?) is because I don’t have just one passion. I don’t have just one thing I like to do.
I have lots of them.
I like writing and websites, helping people get to the heart of the message they want to share with the world. I like helping people learn how to speak effectively about their business or product, to truly provide value to their readers and customers. I also really like dancing and hiking, traveling, cycling, dogs, and hospitality. I adore cooking. If I wasn’t writing and doing content strategy work, I could totally see myself as a personal chef on a yacht or a food tour leader or a B&B hostess. I like taking photos. I like listening to people. And even within the world of writing and content strategy, I like so many things: coming up with smart navigation for websites, organizing content on each page, writing catchy slogans, crafting full-length novels, polishing website content…
There are a thousand little passions and sub-passions, likes and loves.
So, therein lies the dilemma: when you like a lot of different things, how do you decide what to pursue?
In the many course shifts and career redirections of my own life, I’ve finally come to realize that the answer, at its heart, is about defining and knowing and living within your values.
Too often, we think that career decisions fall into the category of “right choice” and “wrong choice.” But most of the time, it’s just a choice. Not right. Not wrong. Not moral. Not irreversible. Just a choice.
For example, let’s say you are really good at two things: event planning and cooking. And you’re at a crossroads. Should you get an event planning mentor or go to culinary school? Should you start an event planning business or start giving cooking lessons? Should you get an event organizer job or start sending out your resume for private chef gigs? Or should you incorporate both somehow?
This is the kind of decision we get stuck on, the kind of thing that gets us Googling “how do I find my passion?”
If that’s you, remember that you are allowed to change your mind. Your decision isn’t irreversible. Choose the thing that works for you right now and if it doesn’t work out? That’s okay. You’re okay. You’ll be okay. Shifting course is part of the journey.
The second answer is to identify your values. What matters to you in work and life right now? Is it flexible hours? Making a certain amount of money? Getting out of debt? Keeping your risk low? Traveling while you work? Having a stable income? Diversifying your income in case you lose your full-time job? Are you working toward business ownership? Making more time for your family? Building a skill set that will support some later goal?
There is no “right” answer. What’s important is knowing what matters to you right now. So take some time to figure that out first. Because once you know what you’re working toward, the right path for right now becomes a lot more clear.
* * * * *
I reached one of these crossroads late last year, after about six years of full-time self-employment. In that time, I’d done content strategy and copywriting for clients big and small. I’d written 10 travel guides. I’d been a magazine correspondent, a blogger, a ghostwriting content marketer. And in 2016, I realized that some of the things I’d done—things I’d been idolizing and glamorizing since childhood—weren’t feeling as exciting or fulfilling as I’d hoped.
So I found myself subtly shifting priorities and client types throughout the year and then, over the holidays, when it came time to ask myself what I wanted to do in the coming year, I had to sit down once again and define my values.
For 2017, what did I value in my work life?
The answers boiled down to a few rather simple things:
I value low stress, which demonstrably helps my overall health and happiness.
I value flexible hours, which allow me to work when I’m most productive, get the most out of my time, and walk away from work for awhile when I need or want to for reasons either personal or professional.
I value keeping phone calls to a minimum, both because projects with a lot of phone time get overly drawn out and because I’m often on a different time zone than my clients and I don’t want to spend all my evening hours conducting interviews.
I value working part-time—a fact that I discovered last year when I reduced my working hours by about half in an effort to prioritize my health. The immediate effect on my life was significant and, thus, keeping my hours under 25 per week (or even under 20), is a priority for 2017.
I value relaxed clients and reasonable deadlines.
* * * * *
Once I wrote all this out, it was time to weigh my options against it.
Which of my business options is lower-stress?
The truth is that the thing causing most of my work stress was the same one that probably causes most freelancers work stress: money.
For content strategy and copywriting, the financial stress is low. Projects pay well and usually on time. I bill half the project fee at the start of a project and don’t begin until that money hits my bank. And even when project deadlines get pushed, I pretty much always have a sense of how long the project is going to last and when the final bill can be issued.
For magazine and book writing, the opposite is true. Most publications pay when they publish a story. Sometimes that’s the day after you send it; sometimes’s it’s six months later; sometimes you’ll wait a year. Sometimes editors disappear altogether and never publish your piece or even respond to your inquiries about it. Pay schedules are erratic and the pay scale seems to be on a downward trajectory.
For the books, while I always get paid when someone buys a book, sales (of course) vary month by month. Right before Christmas, there’s a windfall. In the summertime, crickets. There are general patterns and I do get paid, but the amount is not entirely consistent and it doesn’t feel like the kind of thing you can count on, especially with the book market always changing.
Which of my options offers flexible hours, minimum phone time, and part-time hours?
The good news here is that pretty much all of my writing work is flexible when it comes to hours. Both types of work require some phone time, but in either case I can choose clients and projects with less phone time along the way. And when it comes to part-time hours, both are flexible.
That said, how many hours I work is, of course, related to how much I get paid. And when I did the math on book writing and magazine work, it came in quite a bit lower per-hour than copywriting and content strategy. So if low hours and low financial stress are both priorities, content strategy and copywriting is a more sure route.
Which of my options offers relaxed clients and reasonable deadlines?
Yet again, this is less a question of copywriting vs. magazine writing and more about which clients I choose to work with. I do have a lot more experience in the copywriting and content strategy world, which means it’s easier for me to find and work with the right clients on the right projects, so perhaps the CS/copywriting world, yet again, has a slight edge here.
* * * * *
When I break it all down like that, it becomes really clear to me that working about half-time on content strategy and copywriting work is the right choice for this particular phase in my life and business. It’ll let me continue to focus on my health and wellness, work with clients and on projects that are a really good fit, keep my flexible schedule, do something I like with my working hours, and leave me plenty of free time to pursue my other interests—be they hobbies or projects.
So the road forward, at least for now, is clear.
And as other business opportunities come up this year? I’ll be weighing them all against that list as I go (and documenting the journey here).
* * * * *
So, the only question that remains is: what about you? What are your values? How do they fit into the path you’re on? What direction will you go in 2017?